This semester, I was pleased to conduct conservation treatment on an architectural drawing of the McDonald Observatory, a leading center for astronomical research and teaching located in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. This 25″ x 42″ charcoal and graphite drawing, made by University of Texas architects in 1934, is housed at the Alexander Architectural Archives here at the University of Texas.
The drawing had several condition issues when it entered the lab. A large tear extended up the center of the drawing, nearly separating the paper in two. The tear had been previously repaired with pressure-sensitive tape, which had become browned and embrittled over time. The tape repair was visible through the drawing’s thin tracing paper. The tear was misaligned along the tape repair, causing gaps in the image and text, as well as rippling from stress in the paper. Creases and grime had resulted from handling. The charcoal had offset during direct contact with storage materials.
During treatment, the drawing underwent surface cleaning and several rounds of humidification and flattening to reduce grime and creasing. The discolored tape was removed manually, with controlled application of moisture to soften areas of stiff adhesive. The tear was realigned and mended with heat-set tissue to minimize water exposure to the moisture-sensitive tracing paper. Wheat starch paste was added in small mended areas to improve strength.
Last, a sink mat was constructed to safely house the drawing. The deep walls of the mat hold its cover sheet away from the drawing to prevent further media offset. Acid-free corrugated board was used for structural elements to provide stiffness with minimal weight. A second ply of board, applied cross-grained, was added to support this oversize drawing.
Many thanks to the Alexander Architectural Archives for the chance to work on this beautiful drawing!
This exhibit featured the data-based artwork A Work of Art for Every Entry in Index – Subjects – Library of Congressby sound and media artist Holland Hopson. The artwork generates descriptions of non-existent artworks by using actual Library of Congress terminology; our students then created real artworks based on these fabricated descriptions. We were so pleased to host Holland at our exhibit closing reception, and to work with him throughout the semester!
Students in INF 393C, Introduction to Paper Conservation, are excited to apply their treatment skills to two groups of drawings from the Alexander Architectural Archives this spring! Throughout the course, students learn foundational treatment skills through work on practice materials, and then complete one full treatment on archives materials.
The first group of tracing paper drawings features the original design for Kealing Middle School here in Austin. The plans were created by architect Roy Thomas, who designed residential, public, and commercial structures in Central Texas from the 1920s – 1950s. Kealing opened in 1930 as the first junior high for African American students in Austin. The school closed in 1971 during desegregation. The original building was razed after a fire in 1983, and Kealing’s current building opened in 1986.
The second group of tracing paper drawings features a number of Galveston buildings designed by architect Nicholas Clayton. Clayton was one of the first professional architects to become established in Texas. He’s best known for his work in Galveston between 1873 – 1900, during that city’s heyday as a center of trade and commerce, and the largest city in Texas. It is likely that the water damage on the students’ drawings came from the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, still the most deadly natural disaster in US history.
We are so pleased to work once again with the Alexander Architectural Archives on these hands-on student experiences!
The UT Student Chapter of the Society of American Archivists is excited to start our 30th year as a student organization. This semester, we are planning to tour local repositories, network with the wider Austin archivist community, and host a study group for the Certified Archivist Exam. We’re even looking to bring back the one and only Edible Book Festival!
Joining SAA is a great way to meet colleagues and build experience in the archives field. There are no dues this year. To sign up, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join our listserv at https://utlists.utexas.edu/sympa/info/saa-ut-students.
Three cheers to the students in INF 386E, Planning and Understanding Exhibits, who successfully launched their class exhibit on paper dolls. Titled All Dolled Up: Playing with Identity in 1940s Paper Dolls, the exhibit explores issues of power and agency; identity and play; gender roles during wartime; and big-screen celebrity. Today’s opening reception featured 1940s-themed music, food, and dancing. The exhibit will be on display in the UTA building now through December 1, 2022. Many thanks to UT’s School of Human Ecology for the chance to work with this fascinating collection.
This week, students in my Disaster Planning and Response course kicked off our fire unit with a visit to the Austin Fire Department training facility. Arson investigator Nick Ganci and firefighters set up a burn cell modeled after a small apartment, complete with drywall and furniture. Students then placed deaccessioned library books in various locations around the room. The fire began with a candle placed too close to a curtain. As the fire grew, we learned about the ways heat, air flow, construction techniques, and materials impacted its course. Once the fire was extinguished and the site was safe, we collected the books to bring back to the lab.
During our visit, Ganci introduced us to the fundamentals of firefighter training. He also discussed how his team uses physical evidence to evaluate likely scenarios about a fire’s origin and progression. This was a great opportunity for students to learn about communicating with first-responders and protecting cultural heritage collections.
Next week, the students will practice removing soot and ash from burned volumes by using a HEPA vacuum and soot sponges. With the context this hands-on experience provides, we’ll then practice making judgment calls about when to salvage and when to replace materials. This exercise underscores the importance of planning and prevention in managing fire risk.
Many thanks to Nick Ganci and the Austin Fire Department crew who so generously gave their time and good-naturedly answered our many questions! Also thanks to our book donors: Kate Slaten and Erin Tigelaar (who joined us for the event!) from the Brentwood Elementary School Library and Jeff Newberry from UT’s Collections Deposit Library.
This week, students in my course INF 393C Preservation Science and Practice tried their hand at making paper. Paper is made from a vat of macerated cellulose fibers in water.
When a thin slurry of fibers is deposited on a screen, the fibers begin to undergo hydrogen bonding. This bonding, along with physical entanglement, is what creates a sheet of paper.
As we learn in class, a great deal of activity can occur over time at these hydrogen bonding sites. Hydrogen bonds are weak bonds, and they’re prone to break in the presence of pollutants, atmospheric moisture, light, and other agents. When they break, the cellulose strands shorten, and the paper gradually becomes fragile and brittle. Through the preservation measures studied in class, we aim to slow down this process and prolong the lifetime of cultural materials.
We’re so pleased to welcome students back for the Fall Term 2022 here at the School of Information! In the labs, I’ll be teaching Preservation Science and Practice, Disaster Planning and Response, and Planning and Understanding Exhibits. We’ll also be supporting Preservation Management with Rebecca Elder. We’ve got lots of great projects planned, from practicing mold remediation on collections materials from Huston-Tillotson University; to completing an onsite risk assessment at the Textiles and Apparel Collection from the School of Human Ecology here at UT; to exhibiting celebrity paper dolls from the 1950s! We’re also starting work on a collaboration with UT’s Historic Preservation Program in Architecture to investigate climate-ready storage for library and archives collections.
This spring, I was pleased to work with a folder of materials from UT’s Alexander Architectural Archives. These materials came from the Boone Powell collection. Powell was a 20th-century Texas architect with notable work in Austin and San Antonio. He was project architect for the Tower of the Americas; in 1968, this was the tallest observation tower in the Western Hemisphere. This folder details his 1981-83 designs for the Texas Republic Bank and associated office buildings in San Antonio.
The most delicate part of this treatment was four sheets of photographic slides that had been stored in non-archival plastic protectors. The protector sheets had discolored and warped, and had stuck to the photos’ image areas. Working with magnification, and alternating between transmitted and raking light, I used a microspatula to mechanically release the slides from the plastic sheets. I then used gentle brushes and a soot sponge to remove adhered grime, and stored the slides in new protector sheets made of archival PET plastic.
We were fortunate that this treatment didn’t require heat, cold, or humidification, which might have required consultation with a photo conservator! When storing photographic slides at home, similar damage can often be avoided by using archival-quality sleeves or PET, Mylar, of Melinex plastic; and storing materials in conditions controlled for human comfort (no attics, basements, or storage buildings.)
On Friday, April 15, students in my course INF 386E Planning and Understanding Exhibits celebrated the opening of their class exhibit. On My Desk Stat! Paper Copying in a Changing Workplace documents copying processes from the 19th – 21st centuries and considers their impact on human health and safety, on waste in the environment, and on gender in the workplace.
The opening event was a fun way to re-connect with colleagues as we took in the exhibit, enjoyed snacks, played a beat-the-typist game featuring a real typewriter, and tested our knowledge in copying trivia to win iSchool mugs, water bottles, and t-shirts. We were so pleased to host visitors from UT and beyond at this event.
Our students have worked hard on every part of this exhibit, from choosing items and crafting narrative to writing text, building web presence, promoting the event, building display elements, and much more. The exhibit is on display on the first floor of the UTA building through 4/28, and you can catch the exhibit online and see updates on Instagram. Congratulations, students!